The girl in the elevator at Memphis’ new Bass Pro Shop said to be sure to get the fudge, it’s famous!, but not today because we are out of fudge today. So I am standing in line at the fudge store to buy my father some sugared-pecans and a Diet Coke instead when a cool hand gently touches my warm one in recognition. I turn to look into eyes I do not know, an older gentleman with a lovely silver-haired woman by his side, but somehow his touch is completely familiar.
It is a touch I have felt all my life.
“We have something in common,” he says before he introduces himself.
“Indeed we do.”
The kindly gentleman takes my three-fingered hand into his own fingerless palm and pats it warmly with his other hand, his “good hand,” an overly intimate gesture in almost every other circumstance, movement far too fast and familiar for strangers. But we are not strangers.
We belong to the same community.
We stand together in the fudge-less fudge line and talk of background (he’s from England) and education (I’m a teacher) and spouses (ours stand beside us smiling and nodding knowingly at each other – between them they have watched these interactions, these immediate friendships bloom year after year). We talk well past the time everyone else is ready to go.
My pecans and soda arrive as does his popcorn and coffee, so it is time for me to step out of line and take my father to see the rods and reels. My new friend and his wife are going to the boats.
“It was so nice to meet you,” I say. “Always is.”
“You are beautiful,” he says, patting my hand one last time.
“You are too.”
We wave our little hands at each other in parting solidarity. Our spouses grin and wink, all of us having been on this stage before.
I was born into the community of the broken, a unique place of loveliness in the universe. Humility dwells there, as does compassion and kindness; empathy is birthed in the fertile ground of this company. This is an enviable lot in which to toss one’s hat.
It is easy to be a part of the community of the broken; one must only admit her brokenness. Something slightly easier to do when you are born that way, I think. I was born with a limb difference – only three fingers on a short left arm. Symbrachydactyly is its proper name.
So my brokenness is physical, visible.
The great and unexpected blessing in the visibility of one’s brokenness is that there is no denying it, no hiding; it’s out there for all the world to see. Other broken-folk, like my new-best-friend in the fudge line, can see my brokenness and come forth with theirs, if they choose. On crutches and in wheelchairs, limb-differed and limbless, the mentally-challenged and the sick, I can see your brokenness and you can see mine.
And the Lord said, It is good.
Here I am, world, as I am. Take it or leave it is the battle cry of the broken ~ a beautiful, liberating anthem.
So when a member of this community approaches me in line and takes my little hand into his, it’s a touch with which I am familiar, something much more than mere compassion. It is the humble touch of understanding. Our love is deep before we ever even speak.
He gets me.
It’s harder, I’ve found, with invisible brokenness. No one can see our hidden things, and we’ve all been experts at hiding since the dawn of man.
Adam, where are you?
This broken community is harder to find because of its invisibility.
Sadnesses and failures, despair and distrust, wounds ancient and un-mended comprise the universal fabric of human brokenness, and yet we all camouflage and deny and pretend it isn’t happening to us ~ we hide our hurt behind the odd, heavy cloaks of smiles and lies and, in the worst case scenarios, we try to protect our own hidden broken places by exposing the brokenness in others.
Judgment and prejudice and petty gossip and intentional cruelty are perfect garments to cower behind. For pointing out the ills in others just may buy one a little bit more time and space to dig her own hiding holes a little bit deeper. Whew.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t like walking on the beach in the summer. The beach ~ where pretty girls strut and fret their hours walking to and fro, with good-looking guys following an acceptable distance behind, everyone hoping. I didn’t mind the walking when my right arm was beachside and my little arm was oceanside, but when we turned to walk back, it was harder. You know this feeling.
It is the fragility of exposure. A very hard place.
The community of the broken can help to heal this place. Honest brokenness strengthens the fragile and emboldens the weak. Gentle, healing grace is where the broken are made whole again.
Please be gentle.
Christ’s brother James tells us to confess our sin [broken places] and to pray for one another, so that we may be healed. I’ll tell you mine and you can tell me yours because it’s all the same brokenness ~ we all need the healing.
The beautiful community of the broken is made up of people with gracious eyes and ears, who see and hear our stories of pain and loss and respond not with judgment but with empathy and understanding deep. Folk who take your hand ~ physically, emotionally, spiritually ~ and say, “I acknowledge your loss and sadness and pain because I acknowledge my own.”
We are the same, all cut from the same tragically-flawed but intricately-designed human cloth.
These are the people who walk hand-in-hand with you down the beach and, rather than trying to hide their stuff, they get t-shirts instead. Ten fingers are overrated her shirt proudly confesses. No hiding here.
What would your t-shirt say?
This is the beginning of healing ~ the confession of broken places. This is a better way of living ~ praying for each other so that we all may be healed.
I happily and humbly join and rejoin the throngs of the broken. You?
I see my fudge-line friend again before I leave Bass Pro. He’s holding an ice cream cone in his good hand and waving maniacally with his little hand. I wave back with my little hand and shout across duck-laden ponds, “It was so great to meet you. Have a safe trip!”
“You too, dearest,” his British accents wafts lightly over the country music. “So much love to you.” He means it.
I receive this healing.